We talk to 49-year old Morpeth-based artist, Sarah Farooqi in the latest in our series of interviews featuring talented artists and photographers from the North East of England. Sarah is best-known for her wonderful, colourful illustrated maps.
How would you describe your work?
I am a watercolour artist specialising in landscapes, townscapes and illustrated maps. From a pen drawing, my pictures evolve into busy, layered compositions which reflect my love of detail and colour, and hopefully a sense of fun.
Tell us how you first started out as an artist?
I began drawing when I was old enough to hold a pencil and went on to study graphic design at university. But then I took a wrong turn into corporate TV graphics and lost my enthusiasm. So I trained and worked as a primary teacher until I became a full time mum. During that time I was asked by my local school to work with their youngest children on an art project.
However, I had to stop myself grabbing the paint brushes off the children as I just wanted to do it myself! I started painting again soon after, and have never looked back. I spent a year experimenting and finding out exactly what it was I wanted to paint and how. Then once I had a couple of finished pieces I took them to show lots of galleries, shops, the National Trust etc. until I had a few places willing to sell my prints/cards. I joined Network Artists and had a group exhibition at Alnwick Garden in 2009. From there I was asked to make visitor maps for Alnwick Garden and Castle.
What work are you most proud of?
In the visitor centre at Howick Hall Gardens (near Alnwick) there is a huge map detailing the whole of the Howick estate, its rare plants/trees and wildlife. The map took the best part of a year to complete and some of it was previously unmapped so I was able to work closely with their head gardener and other members of the Howick team. The map has had a very positive reaction from visitors and I am very proud of it.
What inspires you?
Everything really. I love being outdoors and the intricacy of the natural world. But I also can’t resist a bleak northern industrial scene (see below), or something unexpected or irreverent, as I don’t like to take things too seriously. I also have a terrible sense of direction, so if someone asks me to make them a map I am inspired by that challenge.
What influence if any does North East England have in inspiring your work?
I grew up in Teesside and have fond memories of sketching at South Gare near Redcar. Home to the now ghosted blast furnace, at the time I loved peering through the railings and seeing the molten iron being poured into the trucks, and the architecture of the industrial landscape.
It was also right next to Paddy’s Hole with its fishermen’s huts and the North Sea. There is even a lighthouse at the end. Perfect! Now I live in Northumberland I am totally spoilt by the North Northumberland coastline, with its empty windswept beaches and fabulous castles, and even more lighthouses. The fact that Northumberland is a bit of a secret to many people is also quite appealing – I like to help celebrate it.
What has been your most challenging creation?
Definitely the Howick Hall visitor map, as it involved mapping previously unchartered territory, working with a range of different groups, and the sheer scale of the project. I painted it on a series of squares which when laid out wouldn’t fit in any of the rooms in my house!
Do you have any tips for up and coming artists?
Never give up, and if you feel overwhelmed by the possibilities/challenges, take a deep breath, start at the beginning and just keep going. To begin with there will be set backs, and you need to go through these in order to learn how everything works. Also, if you are trying to make a living from your art, try and remember to put the customer/buyer at the centre of your marketing so that you make it as easy as possible for people to see, understand and buy your work. Also, being an artist can be a little isolating, so make sure you make connections with people and get out and about. All the other artists I know are really nice people, and happy to help.
Whch other artists or photographers inspire you?
The Cornish fisherman and artist Alfred Wallis who started painting on bits of old cardboard at the age of 68. Arthur Rackham, the Victorian artist whose work includes my favourite illustrations for the Wind in the Willows. Tove Jansson, who wrote and illustrated the Moomins. The stories, symbols and patterns in aboriginal art are fascinating. I am also amazed by the photos of Iceland by Benjamin Hardman, who I’ve just started following on Instagram.
What are your ambitions for the future?
More commissioned work, more of my own work, maybe expand my portfolio from Northumbria into Yorkshire and beyond, and one day to have a fabulous studio. I’d also like to illustrate a children’s book.